The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

PETER Kay broke hearts when he an­nounced that Car Share was over – but in Sh­effield their very own John and Kayleigh are still go­ing strong.

Gary Hooper and Steven Fletcher travel to train­ing to­gether and, un­like the hap­less TV duo, have blos­somed into the per­fect cou­ple. Since gaffer Car­los Carvalhal first de­ployed the pair in at­tack against Rotherham on April 4, the Owls have won six straight games to mo­tor into the play-offs. Nei­ther Fer­nando Forestieri nor £10m sign­ing Jor­dan Rhodes have been able to dis­lodge them and Barry Ban­nan – the third wheel in this blue and white bro­mance – says their chem­istry is why Wed­nes­day tackle Ful­ham to­day as the di­vi­sion’s most in-form side. “Hoops and Fletch are re­ally good mates off the pitch,” said the Scot. “The three of us play golf to­gether a lot and we car-share to train­ing. “It’s ba­si­cally two gen­uine Scots and a fake one. I think Hoops has al­ways wanted to be one of us. He even moved to Celtic! “We get on re­ally well and I think that plays a big part in how good they are to­gether up front. If you’ve got play­ers who are mates, it in­vari­ably shows on the pitch.” Hooper scored 13 goals fol­low­ing a £5m switch from Celtic last sea­son but suf­fered a se­ri­ous ham­string in­jury in Novem­ber and didn’t re­turn un­til the start of April. Since then, the Owls haven’t dropped a point. “He’s been mas­sive,” added Ban­nan. “Hoops was out for nearly four months and he’s a big player for the club. He gets goals, but it’s more than that. He con­nects play. He makes it eas­ier for a mid­fielder to get the ball for­ward be­cause he’s al­ways there for a pass.

“That abil­ity to come short is an abil­ity that none of our other strik­ers has, so he’s changed the way we play.”

An­other long-term ab­sen­tee now back in the fold is Kieran Lee, whose win­ner against Ip­swich last week­end marked only his sec­ond game in three and a half months.

Carvalhal has de­scribed the 28-year-old mid­field dy­namo as Wed­nes­day’s own An­dres Ini­esta, though Ban­nan says it is Lee’s legs, not his tech­nique, that have been most missed.

“To be quite hon­est, my game has dropped this sea­son and I think that’s a di­rect con­se­quence of Kieran not be­ing in the team,” he ad­mit­ted.

“When I play along­side him, he’s the one who runs off the ball.

“It takes peo­ple away and gives me more space to get on it and pass.

“And he’s al­ways there giv­ing you an an­gle to play off.


“I’ve said be­fore that when you play along­side Kieran it’s al­most like there’s two of him.

“You look up and he’s in the box, try­ing to score. Then, when they break, he’s back next to me try­ing to win the ball back.

“We’ve missed him a lot. In fact, if there’s one player in the en­tire squad you wouldn’t want to lose it’s prob­a­bly Kieran Lee.”

To­day’s Hillsborough show­down pits the two play­off favourites against each other in what could be a dress re­hearsal for a meet­ing in the semis – or even at Wem­b­ley.

“I think peo­ple are look­ing at Ful­ham be­cause of all the goals they’re scor­ing and say­ing ‘They are the team to beat’,” said Ban­nan. “But I don’t read too much into that.

“We were sup­pos­edly the in-form team last year.

“We fin­ished sixth, we were play­ing good foot­ball, ev­ery­body wanted to watch us. Then we beat Brighton in the semis.

“But we ended up get­ting beaten in the fi­nal by Hull, so it all counted for noth­ing.

“It’s a whole dif­fer­ent ball game in the play-offs.

“It’s not about form or good foot­ball.

“It’s about do­ing what­ever it takes to get across the line.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

TRAVEL TONIC: Barry Ban­nan says Gary Hooper and Steven Fletcher, in­set, have re-ig­nited Wed­nes­day’s sea­son

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